The Salvini Cichlid Cichlasoma salvini, also referred to as Salvin’s Cichlid, is a rather drab fish when purchased as a juvenile. But as this fish matures, especially when it is in breeding colors, watch out! This beautiful fish will make your tank incredibly fascinating to observe as it goes through its color stages.

The Salvini Cichlid isn’t one of the larger aquarium fish, and is about average for Central American cichlids reaching around 8 1/2 inches (22 cm) in length. The young cichlid tends to have washed out colors of yellow or gray. But as it matures the color is generally yellow overall, though there are some geographic variations depending on the place of origin.

The overall yellow color is marked with some black contrasts including four horizontal lines across the forehead and two lines of black spots running down the middle and upper middle of the body. Greenish-blue dots speckle the body and add a pretty sheen to the fins and the anal fin and the edges of the tail fin are accented with a red coloring. This lively pallet gives this fish a very attractive appearance and has led to it’s other common names Yellow Belly Cichlid and Tricolor Cichlid.

The coloring of this cichlid is amplified even more when it is spawning and often results in the female presenting more vibrant coloring than the male. A fish in excellent condition will develop intense black and gold colors along with some bright reds and some blue highlights. Females develop a reddish coloring along the belly and back, though some males may get a reddish belly too. Females also get a blue edged black spot in the middle of the dorsal fin and another black spot on the edge of the gill cover. Males will develop blue streaks on the head and can have blue hues along the back.

The Salvini Cichlid is a moderately aggressive fish and like other aggressive cichlids they are territorial, intolerant, and biters. They are predators and will eat smaller fish and invertebrates and should not be kept with such tankmates. They can be kept singly or in pairs in a large species tank with lots of hiding places. They can also be kept in a large tank with cichlids such as the the Jack Dempsey and the Red Devil, except when spawning. They become more aggressive when they are in breeding mode.

These fish do require a lot of free swimming space and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. A single fish can be kept in a 50 gallon aquarium but a larger tank of 100 gallons or more will be needed to keep a pair or with other cichlids. They are safe around plants as they don’t eat them or burrow extensively into the substrate and will actually present better colors in a planted tank than in one without plants. Placing plants and decor around the inside perimeter of the tank will leave an open area in the center for swimming. They need to be kept in quality water conditions, but can be a very rewarding fish for observant and dedicated aquarists.

Salvini Cichlids Guarding Fry

Scientific Classification


Salvini Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:50 gal (189 L)
Size of fish – inches8.7 inches (22.00 cm)
Temperature:72.0 to 79.0° F (22.2 to 26.1&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Salvini Cichlid Cichlasoma salvini was described by Gunther in 1862. They are found in Central America along the Atlantic slope from southern Mexico to Guatemala, the Honduras, and Belize. They have also been introduced in the United States in Broward County, Florida and in Texas. The species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names they are known by include Salvin’s Cichlid, Yellow-Belly Cichlid, or Tricolor Cichlid.

They inhabit inhabit moderate and fast moving waters of rivers and lagoons at lower elevations, feeding on macro-invertebrates and small fishes. Unlike many other members of its genus, this fish spends most of its time hunting in the central open areas of rivers and tributaries rather than lurking among roots and caves on the sides.

  • Scientific Name: Cichlasoma salvini
  • Social Grouping: Pairs – Should be kept either alone, in pairs, or in a very large tank with other cichlids.
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The body of the Salvini Cichlid is an elongated oval shape with a pointy snout. They reach around 8 1/2 inches (22 cm) in lenght making them a bit on the larger size of average for a Central American Cichlid. They have a life span of 10 – 13 years with proper care.

The overall body color is generally yellow, though there are some geographic variations. They have a series of blotches running mid-body from the eye to the tail fin, and another series of even more patchy blotches above it, midway between the mid-series and the dorsal fin. zYoung and immature specimens are a drab yellow or gray coloring which morphs into the yellow coloring as they age.

The males have more pointed fins. Males also may have some blue hues along the back with blue streaks on the head. Some males may also have a reddish belly.However, in all cases the females are the most intensely colored and have a starker contrast between the patches of black and the body color. Females have a reddish coloring along the belly and back, a black patch edged in blue in the middle of the dorsal fin, and a black spot on the edge of the gill cover.

  • Size of fish – inches: 8.7 inches (22.00 cm) – These fish get up to 8.66 inches (22 cm), though they are ready to spawn at a smaller size of approximately 6 inches (15 cm).
  • Lifespan: 13 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Salvini Cichlid is recommended for the more experienced cichlid keeper and should be avoided by beginners. These fish are very hardy and do not require exceptionally large tanks, but they are known to be aggressive and intolerant to other fish. They also tend to need very frequent and diligently performed water changes and maintenance.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

Although they are omnivorous the Salvini Cichlid is primarily a carnivore in nature, feeding on small fish and small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. In the aquarium they will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high-quality flake food or pellet every day. Adding some blanched spinach and cucumbers will give this fish the extra vitamins it needs.Feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen) or blood worms as a treat.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

The Salvini Cichlid requires frequent and comprehensive water changes due to their messy excretions. Depending on how densely stocked your aquarium is, you will need to perform water changes of 20 – 25% at least once a week, more frequently depending upon bio load. Before starting the water change it is best to clean the side panes of algae, using an algae magnet or sponge. Thoroughly vacuum the substrate and remove all fish waste and biolgical material (including food) from the tank during the water change. If left unattended, decaying biological material can quickly turn a healthy tank into a cesspit of disease. Set up a strict maintenance routine for these fish depending on the load in the tank and you will have healthy and happy fish for a long time.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – 20 – 25%

Aquarium Setup

A minimum 50 gallon aquarium is suggested for a single fish. A larger tank would be needed if keeping a pair (100 gallons or more is suggested) or if keeping them with other cichlids. They need good water movement along with strong and efficient filtration. It is recommended to use a good canister filter for these fish. The canister filter will also help with water movement. Powerheads can be added to increase water movement.

Provide plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. They don’t burrow or attack plants and they are said to be better colored fish if kept in a planted aquarium. Plants placed around the inside perimeter of the tank will leave an open area in the center for swimming.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 79.0° F (22.2 to 26.1&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 76.0° F
  • Range ph: 6.5-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 8 – 15 dGH
  • Water Movement: Moderate – On the high end of moderate. Canister filters and powerheads are recommended to provide good water movement.
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Salvini Cichlid is not a good community fish. They are territorial and moderately aggressive, and more aggressive when spawning. They are also a predator and will eat smaller fish. It is best kept singly in a species tank or with other moderately aggressive cichlids such as the Jack Dempsey and the Red Devil. It is said to be less aggressive when kept in an aquarium with hardy plants and plenty of cover, and if kept well fed.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – Tank needs to be very large or they will fight over territory.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sexual differences

The male has longer and more pointy fins. Both sexes become more intensely yellow during spawning, and black markings appear along the center of the body and dorsal area. The female has a patch in the center of her dorsal fin edged in blue, and a dark spot on the lower edge of her gill cover.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Salvini Cichlids are egg layers and form a nuclear family. They are good parents and the fry are guarded by both the male and female. They become sexually mature at around 6 inches (15 cm) and will lay their eggs on flat leafs or stones on the bottom of the aquarium. The fry will be free swimming in around 5 days and should not be allowed to swim with fish other than the parents. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

They are subject to infections as well as other diseases that affect ail freshwater fish, especially if the water is of poor quality and low oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment.

As with most fish the Salvin’s Cichlids are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria and harmful chemicals. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so as not to upset the balance.


The Salvini Cichlid is generally available both online and in fish stores. It is usually moderately priced and sometimes juveniles can be found for a bit less than adults



Featured Image Credit: Bk87, Shutterstock